If you’ve never eaten the shanks off your deer, elk or antelope, you’re missing out on one of the best cuts of meat on the whole animal. If you’re a burger-and-steaks person, that’ll sound hard to believe, but branch out just a little and try this venison osso buco recipe. Trust me.
Osso buco is Italian for “bone with a hole,” which is exactly what will be in the middle of your shank sections — the leg bone. The shanks of a deer are the parts of the leg just above the knee, up to where the “thigh” gets really meaty. Use a bone saw to cut just above the animal’s knees, then cut that part off several inches higher where the leg bone reaches the chest cavity (front legs) or where there’s enough meat to turn into a roast (back legs). If you prefer, you can cut these sections in halves or thirds to make nice servings sizes. They are perfect for this venison osso buco recipe.
The shanks will be riddled with silverskin and connective tissue. You’ll be frustrated by it and tempted to cut it out — don’t. Trim the exterior silverskin if you must, but leave all the sinewy connective tissue alone. It will cook down into a fabulous, melt-in-your-mouth consistency that makes this dish taste as if it’s loaded with fat like a well-marbled pot roast. Except, of course, it isn’t.
Now that your shanks are ready to go, let’s get going.
First, mince one large onion, two carrots, a big rib of celery and 3 cloves of garlic. You want them minced fine. Set aside.
Preheat your oven to 325. Salt and pepper your shanks generously on all sides. Put your Dutch oven on the stove over medium-high heat and add a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. When the oil shimmers and nearly starts smoking, add the shanks and brown them nicely on all sides, working in batches if you need to. (You’ll often find in a venison osso buco recipe instructions to dredge the meat in flour before you brown it, but I avoid flour in my diet — so I leave it out, and find I don’t miss it in this dish at all.)
When they’ve got a beautiful brown crust on all sides, remove the shanks from the pot and set aside. Add a tablespoon or two of butter to the pot, then add your chopped veggies. Cook until the veggies are soft, scraping the bottom of the pot gently to pick up the brown bits of goodness the meat left behind. While the veggies cook, pop open a can of whole peeled tomatoes and remove the seeds — yes, this is a by-hand process, and it’s messy.
When the veggies are soft, return the meat to the pot. Pour in the stock and the wine, if using, and squeeze your tomatoes into the pot, smashing them with your hands as you add them. You want the liquid to be nearly to the top of the meat, but not quite. Drop a bay leaf and a few sprigs of fresh thyme on top of the meat. Put the lid on your Dutch oven and pop it into the oven for two hours. Before it goes into the oven, it’ll look something like this:
After two hours, remove the lid and check the liquid level. You want the liquid to reduce and thicken, but you don’t want the pot to run dry. Add stock as necessary to keep that from happening. Keep the lid off and leave it in the oven another hour, keeping an eye on the liquid level.
While it’s cooking, you’re going to make your gremolada — which is an Italian condiment or garnish that sounds much fancier than it is. Mince five cloves of garlic, zest one lemon, and mince some parsley until you have about two tablespoons of it. You want the garlic in particular minced as fine as you can get it, unless you like biting into chunks of raw garlic. Mix the three ingredients together and set aside. Gremolada, done. Stir a tablespoon or so into the osso buco during the last 30 minutes of cook time.
Pull it all out of the oven, and you’re done! Serve each shank with some of the thick vegetable sauce on top, and garnish with the gremolada. It can be served by itself or over risotto, polenta or mashed potatoes.
Venison Osso Buco Recipe
Bone-in shanks and shank meat, enough for however many people you plan to serve
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, minced
2 carrots, minced
1 celery rib, minced
3 medium cloves garlic
1 3/4 cup chicken stock OR 1 cup white wine and ¾ cup chicken stock
1 28-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes, seeded and drained, tomato flesh crushed
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons minced parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
5 cloves garlic, finely minced
To make this venison osso buco recipe, start by preheating your oven to 325°F.
Season shanks with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, brown the shanks on all sides. Remove from pot.
Add butter to Dutch oven, along with onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Sautee until soft.
Add stock, wine (if using) and tomatoes to Dutch oven, along with the browned shanks. The liquid should nearly but not totally cover the shanks. Add thyme and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Put the lid on and move it to the oven. Cook for 2 hours.
In a small bowl, stir together parsley, lemon zest, and garlic to make the gremolada. Set aside.
Remove lid from shanks and continue cooking until they are fork-tender, about 1 hour longer. If the pot becomes too dry, add more stock or water as needed to keep it moist. Reduction is good, but a dry pot is bad. Keep an eye on the liquid to ensure the pot does not go dry. During the last 20 minutes of cooking, stir in 1 tablespoon gremolada. The liquid should be saucy and thick.
Top shanks with sauce and gremolada and serve. Suggested accompaniments: polenta, risotto, mashed potatoes.